Bitcoin

Will Biden’s plan to tax crypto mining reduce emissions? Critics say no

Cryptocurrency miners based in the United States could soon face a tax equal to 30% of the cost of electricity they use if President Joe Biden’s proposed budget for the fiscal year 2024 is approved by Congress, but the proposal has sparked debate about whether it would actually decrease global emissions and energy prices.

Cryptocurrency mining is a resource-intensive process that attempts to solve increasingly complex equations in order to create new blocks which can then be validated and added to the blockchain.

This process consumes a significant amount of energy, with some estimates placing the global energy consumption of Bitcoin (BTC) mining alone at around 0.59% of the world’s energy usage, which is roughly equivalent to the energy usage of Malaysia, according to Worldometer.

Biden’s  Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), argues that the tax — dubbed the Digital Asset Mining Energy (DAME) excise tax — “encourages firms to start taking better account of the harms they impose on society,” adding:

“Estimated to raise $3.5 billion in revenue over 10 years, the primary goal of the DAME tax is to start having cryptominers pay their fair share of the costs imposed on local communities and the environment.”

By imposing a tax on electricity usage crypto miners will have a financial incentive to reduce their energy consumption, and with electricity generation making up such a large proportion of carbon emissions, this should theoretically reduce emissions in the U.S.

This idea is similar to the thinking behind carbon taxes, which are intended to disincentivize emitters by forcing them to pay the full social cost of their emissions after attempting to factor in costs associated with polluting.

Leakage

However, opponents of the tax argue that it will simply drive miners offshore to countries with lower tax rates and less stringent environmental regulations, where they will continue to emit large amounts of carbon dioxide. This situation is known as “carbon leakage,” whereby emissions are simply shifted from one location to another, rather than reduced overall.

As Coin Metrics co-founder Nic Carter points out, these countries may also have a much lower proportion of energy supplied by renewable sources, so emissions may even increase as crypto miners move offshore.

Carter was scathing in his critique of the policy, arguing that it would decrease tax revenue contrary to what the Biden administration suggests, increase carbon emissions, and empower “geopolitical enemies.”

In its blog post, the CEA noted that “the potential for cryptomining to relocate abroad — such as to areas with dirtier energy production — is a concern” but suggested that other countries are also moving to restrict crypto mining, and cited nine countries that already had banned the activity.

Speaking to Cointelegraph, environmental group Greenpeace USA’s Bitcoin project lead Joshua Archer warned that regulations or taxes deterring crypto mining will likely be created wherever crypto miners move to, and argued that Bitcoin should eliminate its proof-of-work consensus mechanism.

The climate activism group has been calling for Bitcoin to transition to a proof-of-stake mechanism as part of its ongoing “change the code, not the climate” campaign which began early last year. 

One of the countries referred to by the CEA, China, banned crypto mining in 2021 after citing concerns about its electricity consumption and environmental impact. However, studies on the effect of the ban suggest that activity had simply moved to countries that use far less renewable energy, and actually increased global emissions.

The CEA also argued that crypto miner’s electricity usage drives up costs for other consumers, and increases overall reliance on “dirtier sources of electricity.”

While this makes sense according to economic theory, as an increase in demand within a market leads to higher prices, it may overlook some important nuances of the crypto-mining industry and its effect on the electricity market in the U.S.

‘Beauty of Bitcoin’

Bitcoin miner Marathon Digital Holdings’s CEO Fred Thiel told Cointelegraph that “The beauty of Bitcoin mining is that it naturally incentivizes renewable energy generation.”

Thiel elaborated that “In many cases, green energy sources — such as solar and wind farms — are only feasible if there is consistent demand for that energy when it is produced,” adding:

“While most consumers’ energy needs fluctuate, miners act as consistent base load energy consumers. They help stabilize the grid, making new green energy projects financially feasible.”

According to Thiel, while Bitcoin mining incentivizes the production of renewable energy generation, Bitcoin miners in the U.S. are also drawn to renewable energy sources, as the excess energy they produce which is unable to be returned to the grid is some of the cheapest energy available in the U.S.

Thiel added that if this excess energy was not used by Bitcoin mining firms, it would not be able to be used by consumers and would otherwise be wasted.

Thiel noted that this mutually beneficial relationship between renewable energy producers and Bitcoin miners is contributing to an already ongoing shift towards more sustainable sources of electricity, pointing to the most recent survey by the Bitcoin Mining Council (BMC).

Based on the results of the survey, the BMC estimated that 58.9% of the electricity used in Bitcoin mining throughout the last quarter of 2022 was generated by renewable energy sources, a number that is increasing over time.

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Thiel was also very scathing of the DAME tax, arguing that “it is a shot at a specific industry, not at a specific practice or fuel source,” adding:

“If the Biden Administration really wanted to reduce global emissions, it would target the ways electricity is generated – not arbitrarily target select industries that use it.”

He said that the proposal “is intended to run Bitcoin miners out of business” and “will both raise energy prices for consumers and reduce the feasibility of renewable energy development in the U.S.,” concluding:

“Either the administration is utterly misguided, or this proposed tax is nothing more than a move to hamper this industry for political reasons, because it is not in the interest of the people, the energy grid, or the environment.”

The proposal comes amid calls that a lack of regulatory clarity and access to banking services in the U.S. is killing its crypto industry, and if the DAME tax is approved by Congress it may just be one more nail in the coffin.

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